Editor’s note: This is a reprint of a story that was included in the 100th anniversary edition of the Hannibal Courier-Post in 1938.

More than a half-century of progress has given Hannibal one of the best municipally owned public utilities to be found in any city of its size. Lighting by electricity has been provided in Hannibal since 1886, while the city water department was put into operation in 1913, after many years of private ownership of the utility. Today, (in 1938) Hannibal’s light and water department has a total valuation of $2,092,351.46, the municipal electric department being rated at $1,246,907.81, the water department being valued at $840,443.65.

Not only are the citizens of Hannibal furnished light and water at reasonable rates, but they share in benefits made possible by the department, free of charge. The total operating expense of the light department is slightly more than a quarter million dollars per year, this amount including depreciation.

Included in the operating expenses is cost of light and power, furnished without charge to all city buildings, street lighting, and payment of franchise tax. These direct benefits to the city of Hannibal will amount to between $55,000 and $60,000 per year.

The total operating expense of the water department for a year will run close to $80,000, including depreciation. Included in the operating expense is the cost of water service for all municipal purposes and maintenance of fire hydrants, for which no revenue is obtained, and also the payment of a franchise tax. More than 900,000 gallons of filtered water are furnished annually by the water department for an average of around 106 gallons per capita.

The light and water plant, modern and efficient today, has been built up by a process of improvements through the years.

The first bond issue for electric lights in Hannibal was voted in 1885, a vote of 1,395 for, and 199 against being recorded. The bond issue was for $20,000. Early in 1886 complete power house equipment was purchased, this including dynamos, engines, and boilers in addition to lights for street lighting purposes and towers for the lights. Light and power for street lighting purposes and for commercial consumers were furnished by the new plant.

First Power House

A power house was erected on Bird street just east of the Wabash tracks for $1,870, and the plant was put into operation on May 7, 1886.

There were no meters, these not coming into use until 1899, so rates were figured on a basis as follows:

  1. For lamps (arc lights) to run until 10 o’clock p. m., $9 per month for first light and $6 per month for each additional lamp.
  2. For lamps to run until midnight, $10 per month for first lamp and $7 for each additional lamp.
  3. For lamps to run all night $15 per month for the first lamp and $12 for each additional lamp.

This was the scale of rates slightly more than 50 years ago. Today this is one of the benefits furnished the citizens of Hannibal free of charge.

A second bond issue for $20,000 was voted on in 1890, this proposition carrying by a vote of 985 for to 277 against. A third bond issue, this for an amount of $8,000 was voted in 1897, this proposition carrying by a vote of 676 to 701 This bond issue was for the purpose of enlarging the plant

Modernization Program

During the next few years more modern machinery was installed. Among the improvements were automatic stokers, a super heater, coal and ash elevators, a coal crusher, and an overhead coal bunker, with a capacity of one car of coal. A new concrete smoke stack was also built to a height of 200 feet with a diameter of nine feet inside at the top.

During the 1929-30 period, the board of public works expended more than $250,000 in the addition of new turbines, new boilers.and the building of a new concrete smoke stack similar to the first one erected at old plant. This made three smoke stacks at the plant, but in 1933 one was torn down.

Since the year 1930 many other improvements have been made. One boiler was replaced in 1933 and another one was replaced a year later. A new turbine was installed in 1935-36 to give the plant a total capacity of 15,000 kilowatts.

The actual total improvement financed from surplus earnings in the past six years in the electric department of the city amounts to $860,528.82.

A remarkable record of the plant is that since 1932 it has been in constant operation without a second of interruption in the operation of the plant itself.

In figuring the operation costs for a year, an amount for depreciation is included in this expense. Last year $70,082 in depreciation was charged to operating expenses. This depreciation is constantly going on with machinery wearing out and other parts of the machinery becoming obsolete.

The Hannibal power plant is what might be termed an isolated plant and a breakdown would be serious. Therefore obsolete machinery is kept on hand as reserve machinery to be used in an emergency in case the modern machinery broke down in some manner.

Continued Improvements

New modern machinery for better and more efficient service has been the aim of the board of public works, and money is spent yearly to that effect. The latest improvement at the light plant is the installation, just finished, of the new boiler, one capable of generating 60,000 pounds of steam per hour.

Hannibal, recognized widely for its municipally owned public utilities, is keeping in step with the times and inaugurating innovations in electric lighting. The latest modern improvement in Hannibal in the way of street lighting is the installation of mercury vapor street lights. These lights, extending along Market street for a distance of five blocks are the newest type of street lighting facilities.

A pure mercury vapor light would give an intense blue glow, but the lights installed on Market street are not solely of this type. Each unit includes three lights, two white ones and one of mercury vapor alone.

This new type of street lighting was first tested with two lights on South Main street, and proving to be successful, they were installed during December 1937 on Market street, extending from the wedge for a distance of five blocks.

It is the intention of the board of public works to light most of Hannibal’s business section with this type of street light eventually.

The plans call for Main street to have this type of lighting from Collier street to Hill street. Broadway will thus be lighted from Main street to Fifth street. It is expected that the lights will be installed on Main street this year.

Hannibal is the fourth city in the midwest to install the mercury vapor type of street lighting. In addition to the fact that this type of street lighting is easier on the individual’s eyes, they are cheaper to operate in that they give much better light for the kilowatt hour consumed.

Another type of street lighting to be found in, or at least near Hannibal, are the sodium vapor lights installed on Highways Nos. 36 and 61 at the edge of the city. This type of lighting was first installed on the section of Highway No. 36 and Pleasant street, two years ago. At the time these lights were installed along this stretch of highway 61, measuring about one-half mile, they were the first of their kind west of the Mississippi river, and among the first to be installed in the United States.

Since this first installation these lights have been installed along Highway No. 36 for a distance of a half-mile west, starting at the intersection of 61 and 36. These lights are also installed along Highway No. 61 for a distance of a half-mile immediately south of the intersection of 61 and 36.

These sodium vapor lights give a soft glow easy on the individual’s eyes, differing from the mercury vapor lights in that they give an orange glow instead of a blue glow.

Water Plant Built in 1879

The original water plant was built in 1879 and consisted of one Blake pump with a capacity of 1,500,000 gallons of water in 24 hours, and two steam boilers of 100 horsepower capacity.

The distribution system consisted of a reservoir with a capacity of 1,500,000 gallons of water and 10 miles of cast iron pipe. This distribution system was extended from time to time, until it consisted, in 1913, of 24 miles of cast iron mains, ranging from four to 14 inches in diameter. In 1913 there were 121 fire hydrants in use. There were 2,946 service pipe connections in 1913.

The machinery at the water plant was also improved from time to time. In 1895, a vertical compound condensing Corliss crank and fly wheel pumping engine, with a daily capacity of 2,500,000 gallons, was installed. In 1904, a Worthington vertical triple expansion, duplex, condensing double acting 4,000,000 gallon pumping engine was installed.

In 1913 the city of Hannibal purchased the water plant, the citizens voting on September 1 of that year a bond issue of $360,000 for the purpose of purchasing the entire property of the Hannibal Water Co. Of this amount, $301,346.65 was used for the purchase of property, the remainder being used for the extension of water mains and other improvements in the service system. The property purchased in 1913 included little of what is in the department today. The old steam pumping system is long since obsolete and the filtration system did not exist. The only treatment of water was by crude methods.

The steam pumping engine was done away with in 1924. In this year on May 1, the citizens of Hannibal voted a $400,000 bond issue to improve the water department. In place of the steam pumping plant, a modern motor driven pumping plant operated with current from the light plant, as installed. By installing the new electrically driven pumping plant, the board of public works did away with the need of buying coal to operate the plant, using electrical energy in the pumping of water, this being done at hours when the load on the light plant was lightest. This created a means cutting down the expense of operation.

A filtration plant, outstanding for a city the size of Hannibal, was also installed in 1924. This great improvement, a modern rapid sand filtration plant, was installed in Riverview Park, near the reservoir. The city also employed a city chemist and put him in charge of the filtration plant.

Included in the improvements during 1924 was the erection of two storage towers at two of the highest points in the city, one being erected on Grape street in the south part of the city, the other at the intersection of Pleasant and North Hayden streets. Additional water mains were also installed during the improvements in 1924. Within a few years the city had 45 miles of water mains ranging in size from 4 to 20 inches. There have been two bond issues in interest of the city water plant, the first for $360,000 in 1913, primarily for the purchase of the plant, and the second for $400,000 in 1924, for improvements. This total amount of $760,000 has been entirely paid off.

The original city water system had practically no water meters, the consumers being on a flat service. During the past seven years meters have been installed for some 75 percent of the water consumers in the city. This has resulted in a large reduction of water waste in the city.

Improvement work in the water system has continued since the last bond issue in 1924, these improvements having been financed by the surplus earnings of the department. The total amount of money spent on improvements in the water system during the past six years is $142,949.89. The operating costs of the water department, like that of the light plant, has included an amount for depreciation The depreciation charged against the plant in the operating expenses last year was $19,039.

Among the most recent improvements of the water plant is a huge reservoir with a capacity of 6,000,000 gallons. The city has 284 fire hydrants as compared with 121 in use in the city when it took over the plant in l9l3.

Prior to 1913, there was a different superintendent for each of the light and water departments. When in 1913 the city took over the water department, and the light and water were then both municipally controlled, one superintendent has been in charge.

The light and water department has been under but two superintendents since they have both been municipally controlled. The late A. M. Nipper had 30 years of efficient service to his credit when he died in 1932. In charge of the electric department for the city since 1904, Nipper was made superintendent over the whole department in 1913 when the city purchased the water department. Prior to Nipper’s appointment as superintendent over both departments,C. J. Lewis was in charge of the Hannibal Water Company, having succeeded L. Decker, the first superintendent of the water department. Since 1932 W. S. Watson has been in charge of the light and water department.

The early management of the municipal light plant was controlled by the aldermen of the city, the aldermen nominating and confirming the employees. The late Henry Walker, a member of the city council in the early days of the light plant, served as chairman of the city electric light committee due largely to the fact that he understood the mechanical workings of the plant better than his fellow aldermen. He would usually recommend to the committee the engineer to be put in charge of the plant.

Early engineers of the plant were W. R. Spencer and James Wisner, both of whom have since passed away. These men alternated for several years as chief engineers of the plant. Among the early firemen at the plant were Charles Silvers and Thomas Roach. Roach later graduated to the position of engineer. Tom Rigler was superintendent of the line construction and trouble shooting forces, while Leroy Kimy was in charge of the high tower and carbon Iights. Kimy was succeeded by Arnold Connors.

The light plant was handled in this manner until 1904 when state legislation allowed boards of public works for cities. At the formation of such a board in Hannibal, A. M. Nipper was put in charge of the light plant. At the time of the formation of the board of public works, the rate was 50 cents per month for each light. This was not satisfactory, however, as it was hard to keep check on such a manner of handling rates. The board of public works thus inaugurated the meter system early in its existence.

Today under the meter system, the rate is based on the kilowatt hour, the rate at present being five cents per kilowatt hour for the first 40 kilowatts with all excess consumption being at two and one-half cents per kilowatt hour, with a minimum charge of 50 cents per month.

In a recent report of the light and water department, there were 6,422 accounts listed in the light department and 5,091 reports in the water department.